Book Reviews, Non-fiction

Digestible Mythology

I recently read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology — not a particularly challenging or highbrow book, but ultimately an enjoyable one that seems to have set a new standard for re-tellings of mythology.

The book is simply a re-telling of the Norsemen myths, sourced from the 13th century Prose Edda and Poetic Edda. If you’re like me and you’ve read Good Omens and American Gods, you might expect Norse Mythology to have a modest dose of English humor injected throughout. A quarter through the book, I was disappointed to find that it was, to the contrary, devoid of Neil’s characteristic writing style.

It seems as if Neil deliberately quelled any impulses to leave a trace of his footprints in this work, instead delivering a series of tales that speak for themselves. I’m sure that an appreciable amount of labor went into curating and re-writing the tales from the Eddas — Neil himself reports to have spent years studying them for this work — and while the stories do almost always ring with their own intrinsic humor and ridiculousness, I felt it could have benefited from a thin gloss coating of the author’s personality.

One can however imagine that Neil was simply showing respect to the myths, and that his goal was to make the mythology of the North Germanic peoples more accessible and digestible: and at this, he succeeds. Overall however I would regard the book’s content as great but its style merely good.

Nine months later in 2017, Stephen Fry published Mythos, which I’m currently reading. As an accessible retelling of the Greek myths, it is also succeeding — but has the marked advantage of a modest dose of Stephen Fry’s stylistic humor. While the tales themselves are individually entertaining enough, his humor serves as an incentive to pound through the many dozens of them the book contains.

I hope this trend of simplifying ancient mythology — to an extent suitable for adult readers — continues, as I’m very much more likely to seek one out covering, for example, Hindu mythology, than to grind through the classic Vedic literature and epics. Dear writers: thank you for working with, and not against, my laziness.

Book Reviews, Novels, Video Games

Game Write: Mass Effect — Andromeda: Nexus Uprising

Game Write is a recurring series dedicated to the fiction of game industry veterans. From the best-selling titles of Drew Karpyshyn and Austin Grossman, to the obscure classics of Jane Jensen and Sheldon Pacotti, this series hopes to unearth both the gems and the fluff we tend to leave buried in the credits. In this entry, we review Jason M. Hough & K.C. Alexander’s Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising, a tie-in novel to the newest — and possibly last — Mass Effect game set in the Andromeda galaxy. An immediate prequel to the game, it’s meant to shed light on the near-destruction of the Nexus and its crew, which almost put quashed the Andromeda Initiative’s utopian vision before it could start.

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Book Reviews, Novels

The Tiptree Awards: Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (1937)

There’s a lot to admire with Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night. Published in 1937, she foresaw WWII, the holocaust, the endgame of nationalism, and even the entire plot of George Orwell’s 1984. I didn’t enjoy Swastika Night much, despite that — despite how much I can admire the writer of this story and the ideas it presents.

Set 700 years after ’37, our experience of WWII was instead the Twenty-Year War — a war survived only by Germany and Japan’s diseased nationalism. Hitler won. Minorities have been extirpated except where otherwise desired for slave labor. The German people are heralded as the master race for their pure Blood (with a B). But — even Hitler’s warped, stupid philosophy couldn’t survive forever, and the world of Swastika Night isn’t just a static continuation of Hitler’s racist obsessions. His philosophy was perverted further by subsequent leaders, most notably by an overbearing misogyny.

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Book Reviews, Short Stories

Jirel of Joiry and the uncomfortable roots of feminist fantasy

Jirel of Joiry, an honorable, red-haired, female clone of Conan the Barbarian, could be considered the foundation for all ‘strong female characters’ in genre fiction today, but only in the most shallow sense of the term.

I appreciate that C.L. Moore broke ground in 1930s sword and sorcery, a hyper-masculine genre full of hyper-masculine (read: shitty) men, but any attempt to combat the intense sexism of the genre only goes as far: C.L. Moore was objectively a woman, and Jirel objectively a female character who sometimes swung a sword and killed things.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Star Songs of an Old Primate (1978)

Star Songs of an Old Primate was the first collection of short stories published by James Tiptree, Jr. after the unmasking of Alice B. Sheldon in 1978. It remains out of print today, but five of its seven stories — “And So On, and So On” (1971), “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” (1974), “A Momentary Taste of Being” (1975), “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (1976), and “She Waits for All Men Born” (1976) — are currently available in the best-of anthology, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

I just want to focus on the two unique stories to this collection. For my responses to the five other stories, see my review of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Cyberpunk Roots: Sleaze and cyberwarfare in Dr. Adder (1972)

about what you'd expect, tbqh
This is a book about a ‘glove’ that fires lasers and sexual deviancy.

Dr. Adder is as trashy, stupid and fun as you’d expect from a book deemed too controversial to publish for 12 years.

On one hand, Dr. Adder‘s importance as an early cyberpunk dystopia exceeds its entertainment value. K.W. Jeter wrote it in 1972 while attending college, but it wouldn’t be published until the cyberpunk explosion in ’84. Because of this, the obsession with technology, the casual violence, the Interface-as-Sprawl et al., are all prescient forebears of some of the themes dominating contemporary sci-fi.

But is it a great novel? Not really.

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Book Reviews, Novels, YA

C.S. Lewis & the Space Trilogy, Pt. 1 of an Impossible Project

The Chronicles of Narnia, outside of the Last Battle, never quite sacrifices its plot for religious didacticism. Despite my own atheism, I adore the Narnia series as one of the most important pieces of my childhood. Out of the Silent Planet is, unfortunately, more on par with the Last Battle than with the rest of the Narnia series: Its plot nonexistent next to its dated, shallow, stupid, and hateful didacticism.

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